By Abi Morgan
Directed and choreographed by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett
Company: Frantic Assembly
Venue: Minerva Theatre
Date: Wednesday 16th November 2011
This was our first experience of Frantic Assembly’s work, and it was pretty impressive to see the strong following they have amongst the younger audience. Their style is very physical – the actors even rehearsed on the actual set, which is almost unheard of – and there was a lot of poetry to the performance style. The layered effect of the overlapping scenes was well done, and the music, movement, set and lighting combined very effectively. The performances were all excellent, and blended together really well. The only downside for us was that the story itself was pretty thin, and the movement sections, while they were well done, slowed everything down so much that I was nodding off a bit during the middle section. The idea was good – the same couple seen at the start of their marriage and at the end – and there was one really moving scene, but overall there wasn’t enough material for even the one and half hours without interval.
The set was fairly simple, but there was a lot going on. There were several tall panels at the back at various angles, which created both a barrier and lots of entrances. Their surface was slightly textured, and they were plain white, with lots of Chinese lanterns hidden behind them which were brought out for the final scene. In front of these panels was a wide space with a fridge far left, a wardrobe far right, a bed beside the wardrobe, and a plain kitchen table with three chairs to the left near the fridge. Around all this, and covering a large apron-shape to the front, was a bed of flowers, bright yellow things with hints of green leaves. In amongst these, several peaches had been hidden – even more important to stop the audience walking on the stage today – and some of these were discovered and eaten during the course of the play. The fridge and wardrobe were also entrances, with characters, particularly the early couple, appearing and disappearing through them from time to time.
The bed was also an ingenious contraption, with a secret hole which allowed the actors to slide up onto the bed and down again. This was used during a prolonged section of activity on the bed, when all four characters were interacting with one another; from the post-show, this was done to show the amount of sexual activity that went on, and how the older couple were still seeing their partner as the younger version, or perhaps remembering how things used to be. It’s a good idea, and well executed, but I’ve never related to movement so well as speech, and it went on far too long for me. I was amazed at how well Sian Lloyd and Sam Cox managed all the physical stuff – sliding on and off the bed so smoothly must have been hard work. At the post-show, they told us how the director/choreographers had worked with each actor’s own ability level, and with practice they’d all strengthened up and the movements became easier. (And apparently Sam Cox can do more pushups than Ed Bennett.)
The early couple’s story showed us their initial hopes when they moved into their new house – hopes for a family, a successful dental business, etc. With no sign of children, and the years passing, their relationship is put under a lot of strain, with each partner making some difficult choices. The later couple are facing the death of the wife, from some incurable but unspecified disease. Her choice to help things along was sad but understandable, and as both partners face the inevitable ending of their relationship, it’s natural that they would reflect on their time together. The most moving scene was one where the husband finally snaps and tells his wife he won’t take care of himself at all once she’s gone. It was the most telling display of emotion, and showed us how much he still loved her after all those years.
We were joined by all four members of the cast and Scott Graham, one of the director/choreographers, for the post-show. The discussion revealed how much more the play had given to others, particularly the younger audience members. Listening to them I became aware that we all have our journey of experience, and while Steve and I have come further down the road, so that this play seemed weak to us, there are others who have still to experience these things for themselves, and awakening them to these sorts of life events is no bad thing. The enthusiasm of Frantic Assembly’s supporters was good to see, and suggests that theatre is still thriving in this country and still appealing to all ages. Long may that continue.
© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me